The Threat Cyber Crime Poses to Citizens

Municipalities are Canada’s most successfully targeted sector by cyber criminals. In perspective, it makes sense: municipalities are constantly trying to offer citizens online services to optimize and facilitate different processes. Although convenient, these new networks increase their likelihood of being the target of cyber attacks.

The Weak Spot

Municipalities are the level of government most sensitive to their services disappearing as citizens rely on their services for every day life. Disrupting essential services like access to water, city parking and sanitation can cause a massive ripple affect, impacting entire communities. Cyber criminals can gain access to these services by sending a phishing e-mail with a malicious attachment to any municipal employee. If the e-mail gets clicked, the hacker successfully finds a way in, to damage the system. Once inside, the hacker can hold sensitive information hostage and later ask for a ransom.

Recent attacks to cities like Wasaga Beach, Midland, Stratford and most recently Woodstock, have set a precedent for criminals to target Canadian cities. Back in April, Stratford paid $75 000 in bitcoins to the hacker who accessed their system.

There is a Bigger Problem

Governmental institutions need to find ways in which they can still offer faster and better services to citizens while cost-effectively scaling security programs to protect information. Although paying the ransom allows a cheaper recovery, that money is most often used by traditional, organized crime to fund weapons, drugs, and human trafficking, which ultimately damages our society even more.

So What Should We Do?

To mitigate this problem, citizens and municipalities need to follow three steps:

  1. Be transparent and involve the authorities. Surprisingly, only 1 in 15 cyber attacks get reported to police. Stratford, fortunately, denounced the crime and engaged the Ontario Provincial Police and their cyber crime unit.

  2. Don’t pay the ransom. Woodstock has declared they will not pay the ransom but recover their data from backup storage instead. This highlights the importance of backing up information and updating it with frequency

  3. Create awareness and educate ourselves. Everything starts with one person right? That one person can be the agent of change by creating awareness of cyber attacks at the workplace and how to prevent them.